More than ever, I am respectful of those who paved the way for our American freedom. As a history buff, I have read stirring words from the founding fathers that have inspired me to work to maintain what they had first established. And as an African-American, I have received personal benefit from those who fought against slavery and later those who fought for my civil rights. These people may have had their flaws, but they are worthy of my respect.
Since his tragic murder in 1968, our nation has remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since 1983, when his birthday became a federal holiday, we have formally commemorated his legacy on the third Monday of January. The first MLK Day featured events all over the country, and a bust of Dr. King was dedicated at the U.S. Capitol.
Over the years, we have all had different ways of celebrating the man and his message. This year, however, a group planning a party for young people in Flint, Michigan created promotional flyer that featured a photo-shopped image Dr. King’s face on a body dressed with a large gold chain and making a what most would interpret as a gang sign. The name of the party was “Freedom 2 Twerk.”
Understandably, the King family expressed distress at the use of the images. True to the legacy of Dr. King, however, they also expressed compassion for the perpetrators. "I feel like we have failed to reach these [groups]," Dr. Bernice King, daughter of the Civil Rights icon, told FOX 5 Atlanta. "This imagery thing is just appalling, and it's almost embarrassing…[my] father sacrificed everything for them to live a much more dignified and respectful life…”
Dr. Bernice King’s words go right to the heart of her father’s legacy. Today, we tend think of the battle over “civil rights” as a fight over money and privileges. Forgotten in much of the contemporary rhetoric is the fact that the early days of the Civil Rights Movement were simply about demanding that everyone recognize the full humanity of African Americans. In fact the striking sanitation workers in Memphis—the very event where King would speak the night before his death—were carrying signs that simply read: “I am a man.”
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.